Speaking of republishing books from a couple of posts ago, how often does that happen in your business? For example, I searched for a long time for a "no longer published" children's book, The Green Machine by Polly Cameron, and I always found super expensive copies for sale. It seemed that people were always searching it out and willing to pay big bucks. My 3 kids love it (obviously that's hardly enough for a reprint), but at what point does someone figure out to put it back into the rotation? Would the author, if they were still alive, have to put it through the query system again? Or does the publisher own it? This applies to any reprint of a currently out of print book. I'm tempted to check a copy out from our library and "lose it." Only tempted, don't report me.This does not happen a great deal. There have been some recent reissues, notably from New York Review of Books, but they are almost entirely books that were originally published more than 50 years ago. I see a number of submissions from authors whose books went out of print in the 1980s or 90s, and that's too soon.
Listen, I know that there are some honest-to-goodness great books that are out of print--even books that went out of print within a couple years of publication!--and here's what you have to know: that happens all the time.
It's a fact of publishing. No matter how great the text, the art, the cover, the title, etc, sometimes a book just doesn't speak strongly enough to enough people to survive in the marketplace. If you and I and a couple hundred other people recognize its sterling qualities, that's simply not enough people. (Of course, once books go digital, everything will be able to be in print forever. I'm looking forward to that element of digital books.)
Publishers, reviewers, and booksellers know that however wonderful a book may be, almost all books that go out of print do it for a good reason: they can't sell enough copies.
For this reason, publishers are highly unlikely to republish something that's gone out of print within booksellers' and reviewers' (long) memories. The reissue won't get review attention and won't get bookseller support.
In terms of the rights, the author may have the rights back, if their contract has the standard out-of-print language and they have remembered to request the rights be reverted to them. If the author has not, then the publisher may still have the rights.